On the trail of the Hansa

Trading across seas: that was traders’ recipe for success, primarily around the Baltic and North Sea. They founded the Hanseatic League (or Hansa) in the Middle Ages and were also successful inland. Towns on the Lower Rhine and their kontors (trading posts) also belonged to the legendary association of merchants. Traces of this era are still visible to this day in magnificent trading houses and market squares. Even along the Lower Rhine.

Traders founded branches and boosted trade across borders. Wines and cloth were supplied to the far north of Europe; furs and wood got to the German coasts from there. But travelling merchants were more and more frequently threatened by pirates. One of them in particular attained fame that endures to this day: Klaus Störtebeker.

To better protect themselves against pirates, traders joined together. They founded an association that gradually became the Hanseatic League, which would shape the fate of economies and politics in northern Europe for around 400 years. Valuable cargoes were transported on their adventurous journeys by so-called Hanseatic cogs. The ships travelled together and had armed sailors on board.

On the Hanseatic Cycling Route

Free trade brought prosperity to many towns. Lübeck is considered the unofficial capital city of the Hansa. Car licence plates still make reference to the Hanseatic League: HL stands for Hansestadt Lübeck, HH for Hansestadt Hamburg and HB for Hansestadt Bremen. Neuss, Wesel, Kalkar and Grieth in the Lower Rhine as well as Emmerich am Rhein cannot be recognised as Hanseatic towns on licence plates, but it’s still visible in their townscapes. Such as the merchant’s house, ‘Em schwatte Päd’, in Neuss, the historic town hall on the Großer Markt in Wesel, the stepped gable buildings in Kalkar and the Rhine Promenade in Emmerich am Rhein.

In 2009, Neuss, Wesel, Kalkar, Grieth and Emmerich am Rhein joined together to form the Rhenish Hanseatic League. They also belong to the New Hanseatic League, which brought together more than 200 member cities in 16 European countries in the Dutch city of Zwolle in 1980. The aim is to revitalise old cultural heritage under the name ‘The Hansa’. Like in the Middle Ages, a Hanseatic Day is hosted by a different member city every year. Decisions are made, but above all, the history of the Hansa and international understanding are celebrated.

Are you curious about the Hansa on the Lower Rhine? Then get going. It’s best to go by bicycle. The Hanseatic Cycling Route is 450 kilometres long in total and connects the Lower Rhenish and Dutch Hanseatic towns between Neuss and Harderwijk on Lake IJssel. You’ll discover the beauty of nature and experience the splendour of the old Hanseatic towns along rivers and lakes.

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